The gardener – Part 1

‘The best fertilisers are the footsteps of the gardener.’ Chinese proverb

Most gardeners have probably had the experience of being too busy for a few days to check on the garden, and suddenly finding themselves confronted with a plant covered in insects or drooping with a fungus. It might seem as if the damage appeared overnight, but most of the time there would have been some early warning signs – a few insects exploring the plant, a couple of leaves which were changing colour. Whether we have elaborate watering systems or use a hand-held watering can; whether our garden has been landscaped by a famous designer or has been cobbled together by waves of tenants renting the property, the basic principle is the same – if we don’t take the time to notice what’s going on, we’re likely to miss the early warning signs. This applies to the rest of our lives as well, of course, but could also be said for our meditation practice.

We might feel as if we need to constantly learn new meditation techniques, buy the latest book, go to the workshop of a famous teacher, spend thousands of dollars on a retreat, and continually have a sense of progress and learning something new. A certain amount of this can be beneficial – just like a garden does need some fertilisers apart from the gardener walking through. But we can throw a lot of money at expensive fertilisers and gardening tools, and expensive meditation courses, yet without the commitment of walking through the garden every day, or meditating every day, taking time to notice what’s really going on, much of this can be wasted.

The best fertiliser for our meditation practice is simply showing up to the meditation, day after day. We may not learn anything, or solve our problems, or become more spiritually advanced. Yet like a gardener, we can observe and make little adjustments – pulling out a few weeds, adding fertiliser to a plant which is wilting, squashing some aphids on the roses, pruning spent flowers and making room for more to grow. Slowly, over time as we meditate regularly, we are making choices about what we want to nourish in the garden of our lives, and what we want to let go of. No one is going to do this work for us, though there are people around who can help, such as teachers and meditation groups. In the end, however, it’s up to us to show up – to be the gardeners of our lives, walking through, noticing what’s going on, making small adjustments here and there.

Weekly practice idea:

Take ten minutes to sit in a garden or a park, and notice of how much work has gone into creating this particular space over the years. What are some of the fruits and flowers you would like to cultivate in your own life?

Anja Tanhane